Three More Years Of Analog TV: FCC Wants To Extend Cable's Viewability Mandates

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The FCC has suggested extending its cable analog TV carriage mandate for another three years -- through June 2015 -- and more definitively proposed extending its waiver of the HD carriage mandate for smaller cable operators for three more years as well.

That came in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and declaratory order released by the FCC on Feb. 10. The order part was to clarify that the current three-year mandate and waiver sunsets on June 12, 2012, which is three years from the broadcast DTV transition date, not Feb. 17, 2012, which is three years from the original DTV transition date before it was moved by Congress.

In the rulemaking proposal, the FCC is asking whether it should extend the mandate that cable operators deliver all TV stations' digital signals in analog format to analog customers or, alternatively, make sure all its customers have the equipment to view a digital signal.

It may be in the form of a question, but the FCC signaled in its rulemaking proposal that it was pretty sure of the answer: "The available market evidence seems to indicate that the viewability requirements remain important to consumers."

To help make its case, the FCC cited National Cable & Telecommunications Association data showing that as of the third quarter of 2011, there were still more than 12 million analog cable-only households, and that the switch from analog to digital cable had slowed since the DTV transition.

It also suggested the rule was a case of "no harm, no foul."

"We have not received any complaints under this rule, nor have we received any requests to waive it, from cable systems large or small," the commission said. "This speaks well of the compliance efforts of operators. It also seems to indicate that the burden of compliance has been relatively minimal and that the actual costs of compliance have likely not been onerous."

As for the waiver for smaller cable operators, the FCC was even more definitive, sort of. "Given the apparent widespread reliance of small cable operators on the HD exemption," it said, "we propose to extend it for an additional three years," then added: "[B]ut ask whether this should be the final extension."

That is a waiver of the DTV-related viewability mandate, a 1997 prohibition on material degradation of the broadcast signal that requires cable operators to deliver broadcasters' HD signals in HD to all their customers, whether or not they get cable channels in HD.

Commenters have until 25 days after the FCC proposal is published in the Federal Register, or probably about five weeks from Feb. 10. Reply comments are due 10 days after that.

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